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Teaching Guide

Teaching Cyrano de Bergerac

Get nosy about Cyrano.

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Even though Rostand's play is over a hundred years old, its characters still act like teenagers. While they'll have the angst and melodrama covered, we can help you peel back the layers and explore the gender roles and social structures depicted in the play. And you don't even need to put on a big prosthetic nose to do it.

In this guide you will find

  • quizzes to make sure students actually read and don't just watch the Steve Martin movie. (P.S. Shmoop <3s Steve Martin so much.)
  • activities that transform this old play into a brand-new After-School Special (probably starring Tori Spelling).
  • resources like love letters, modern romance novels, and other mushy stuff that connects to the book.

Just like Cyrano whispers into Christian's ear, we'll whisper in yours—so you know exactly what to teach.

What's Inside Shmoop's Literature Teaching Guides

Shmoop is a labor of love from folks who love to teach. Our teaching guides will help you supplement in-classroom learning with fun, engaging, and relatable learning materials that bring literature to life.

Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 13-18 Common Core-aligned activities to complete in class with your students, including detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes for every chapter, act, or part of the text.
  • Resources to help make the book feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop’s teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the text and how you can overcome the hurdles.

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Instructions for You

Objective: Cyrano de Bergerac is like a teenage drama that takes place with adults… in France… in the 1600s. It's about a bunch of people letting their emotions get in the way of their judgment… sound familiar? It also shines a light on what individuals and society value as the best assets to have: brains, beauty, strength, power, a way with words, sword-fighting skills. 

Along with teenage drama come your classic cliques, stereotypes, and social order. Observe: Nerdy Guy falls in love with Hot Girl who, naturally, thinks of him as "just a friend" while falling in love with Hot Guy who is not nearly as smart or attentive as Nerdy Guy. Drama ensues while everyone tries to be something they're not in order to fit in or be liked until finally, Hot Girl realizes she was in love with Nerdy Guy all along. Sound like every teen movie you've ever seen? 

However, just because it's a classic plot doesn't mean there's nothing to be learned here. In fact, in this lesson students will turn Cyrano de Bergerac into that great gem of educational television: The After-School Special. Students will create a modern-day cast (read: in-depth character analysis) and a parental viewing guide (read: in-depth thematic analysis).

Teachers can expect to spend between two and four hours of class time on this assignment.

Materials Needed:

  • Computers with internet access
  • Copies of the play

Step 1: Let's kick things off with a chat about the characters. Students should have a solid grasp of both the internal and external traits of the major characters. Questions to consider:

  • What flaws does each character have?
  • What strengths does each character have?
  • How does each character feel about himself/herself?
  • How is each character regarded in society?
  • What is each character's attitude toward others?
  • How do the actions of each character reflect his or her self-image?

Step 2: Explain that students will take on the role of a casting director burdened with finding the crème de la crème to star in a re-imagination of Rostand's classic play, after-school special style. Students will cast characters (not actors) from film or television. For example, they can cast Bella (character), not Kristen Stewart (actor), in the role of Lady Roxane. To keep their bosses happy, students have to supply a detailed character analysis and explanation for why their chosen character fits the part.

For each character, students must:

  • Describe the physical and internal traits of the character in the play.
  • Support their character descriptions with text evidence (of course).
  • Assign a movie/TV character to play the part.
  • Write a brief explanation of why this character fits the role (obviously relating the explanation to their character description).

You can have students complete the activity for all the characters, allow them to work in groups, or assign specific characters to students. It's all up to you.

Step 3: No after-school special is complete without a cheesy moral. In the service of said cheesy moral, students will create a guide for parents that explains the lessons each character will teach their precious progeny. Students can reference our Shmooptastic discussion of the play's themes as they create the parent guide. 

Step 4: Lest students think this was all just a fun activity, be sure to wrap things up with a brilliant discussion to bring the purpose home.

  • Why would proper casting for a play/after-school special like this be so important? What tension exists between characters' external and internal traits?
  • What does the play reveal about this tension between what is seen and unseen in a person?
  • What big lessons or ideas did you identify in your parent guides?
  • How do your specific choices for each character help to reveal those lessons?
  • How do these lessons connect to your lives as teenagers in high school? This was an after-school special, after all, so how can you relate? What examples of stereotyping and social hierarchies resonate or conflict with your own experiences?

Instructions for Your Students

Cyrano de Bergerac is like a teenage drama that takes place with adults… in France… in the 1600s. It's about a bunch of people letting their emotions get in the way of their judgment… sound familiar? No? Hint: you guys do that all the time. Trust us, it's true. The play also shines a light on what individuals and society value as the best assets to have: brains, beauty, strength, power, a way with words, sword-fighting skills, you know, the usual stuff. 

Along with teenage drama come your classic cliques, stereotypes, and social order. Observe: Nerdy Guy falls in love with Hot Girl who, naturally, thinks of him as "just a friend" while falling in love with Hot Guy who is not nearly as smart or attentive as Nerdy Guy. Drama ensues while everyone tries to be something they're not in order to fit in or be liked until finally, Hot Girl realizes she was in love with Nerdy Guy all along. Sound like every teen movie you've ever seen? Or your real life as a high school student? 

However, just because it's a classic plot doesn't mean there's nothing to be learned here. In fact, in this lesson you will turn Cyrano de Bergerac into that great gem of educational television: The After-School Special. You will create a modern-day cast (read: in-depth character analysis) and a parental viewing guide (read: in-depth thematic analysis), and by the end, we think you'll see how this play relates to your precious, messy teenage lives. 

Step 1: In preparation for the casting call, let's kick things off with a chat about the characters. Pay uber attention to both their internal and external traits. Questions to consider:

  • What flaws does each character have?
  • What strengths does each character have?
  • How does each character feel about himself/herself?
  • How is each character regarded in society?
  • What is each character's attitude toward others?
  • How do the actions of each character reflect his or her self-image?

Step 2: You will take on the role of a casting director burdened with finding the crème de la crème to star in a re-imagination of Rostand's classic play, after-school special style. You will cast characters (not actors) from film or television. For example, you can cast Bella (character), not Kristen Stewart (actor), in the role of Lady Roxane. To keep your bosses happy, you have to supply a detailed character analysis and explanation for why your chosen character fits the part. For each character, you must:

  • Describe the physical and internal traits of the character in the play.
  • Support your character descriptions with text evidence (of course).
  • Assign a movie/TV character to play the part.
  • Write a brief explanation of why this character fits the role (obviously relating the explanation to your character description).

Step 3: Cyrano de Bergerac clubs us over the head with lessons about life, which is good because no after-school special is complete without a cheesy moral. In the service of said cheesy moral, you will create an instructional reference for parents that explains the lessons each character will teach their precious progeny. You can reference our Shmooptastic discussion of the play's themes as you create the parent guide.

Step 4: Lest you think this was all just a fun activity, let's wrap things up with a serious discussion about why all this stuff matters.

  • Why would proper casting for a play/after-school special like this be so important? What tension exists between characters' external and internal traits?
  • What does the play reveal about this tension between what is seen and unseen in a person?
  • What big lessons or ideas did you identify in your parent guides?
  • How do your specific choices for each character help to reveal those lessons?
  • How do these lessons connect to your lives as teenagers in high school? This was an after-school special, after all, so how can you relate? What examples of stereotyping and social hierarchies resonate or conflict with your own experiences?

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